Madhya Pradesh High Court granted bail to a Muslim teen who had been incarcerated for 151 days, over a complaint with no evidence accusing him of spitting on a Hindu procession. The recent update revealed that the complainant and witness were told to sign a complaint filed by the police, without knowing or agreeing to its claim. Just two days after the incident, the victim’s three-story house was demolished by the municipal officials, to the pounding of loud drums and devotional Hindu music blaring out of the loudspeakers.
What is it all about?
On July 17th, the Ujjain Police arrested three Muslim teenagers after a rumour spread that they had spat on the religious procession from the house owned by Ashraf Hussain Mansoori (43). The procession ‘Mahakal ki Sawari’ was carried out by the devotees of Baba Mahakal, through parts of Ujjain, during which, Mansoori’s two sons aged 18 and 15, and another 15-year-old friend purportedly “spat” on it, as it passed by the house.
The First Investigation Report mentioned a clip of the three accused watching from the terrace surfaced online, which showed one of them drinking water from a plastic bottle. Although there was no clear proof for the claim, the clip was accompanied by a message allegedly claiming that they had intentionally spat on the procession vehicle.
Following this, a complaint was filed by one Sawan Lot (28), at the Kharakuwan police station as reported by The Quint.
The rumour that surfaced online made people abuse Mansoori’s family and Muslims in general. The three youngsters including two minors were detained by the police the same night, and charged with sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 295 (Injuring or defiling place or object of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (statements conducting to public mischief) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
After being presented before a judge the next day, Adnan Mansoori was sent to the Bhairavgarh Central Jail while the other two minors were sent to a juvenile home, as reported by The Scroll. The very next day, the bulldozer accompanied by devotional Hindu song ‘Govinda Govinda’ and the dhol, demolished their shelter to rubble.
Demolition of the three-story building
On July 19th, labelling the house as “khatarnaak bhavan” (dangerous building) by striking off “awaidh nirman” (illegal construction) in an eviction notice, officials of the Municipal Corporation of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh demolished the building in minutes, leaving behind dozens of Mansoori’s family members, homeless. Three Mansoori brothers and their parents had lived there for more than half a century but within two hours, Mansoori’s source of income, their store on the ground floor of the building, was razed down along with their home.
The notice addressed to Mansoori’s late mother, Shahjahan Bi, was dated July 18th, but was pasted just hours before the demolition. This violates the Municipal laws that state that the occupants should be given a month to comply with the notice or file objections. The owner had allegedly received an order a few days ago too, — a claim denied by Mansoori who said he hadn’t received any previous notice.
Mansoori later alleged that had it been an unauthorised construction or illegal, the administration would have had to give him a 14-day notice and wait for his explanation before further action according to the Madhya Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act, 1956. It was struck off and labelled as a “dangerous building” instead.
With just half an hour of notice, the municipal corporation made three Mansoori families homeless (including women, and children), most of whom have no criminal record and were never accused of a crime. Moreover, they provided no evidence to back the claim that the building was “dangerous”.
The case proceedings
Sawan Lot and his friends — Yogesh Bagmar and Ajay Khatri — had come to take part in the rally from Indore, which is approximately 55 km to the north of Ujjain. After the procession, Lot filed an FIR on 17 July 2023, stating, “This incident has offended my religious sentiments and those of the entire community.”
As per the FIR, two videos were provided to back the claim that the 18-year-old Adnan Mansoori and the two minors were deliberately spitting water on the religious procession from the roof to harm one’s religious sentiments.
Speaking for Adnan, Advocate Devendra Sengar said, “They said it (video) showed a minor in a skullcap seen standing on the roof with a water bottle in one hand.”
The police had then sought time to present the video before the High Court as evidence, but have failed to produce them.
On 15 December 2023, the complainant Sawan Lot, and witness Ajay Khatri turned hostile and did not support the case of the prosecution, saying they had neither identified the accused nor had they seen them spitting on the procession in front of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
Complainant, Witness turn hostile and accuse the Police of misquoting them
Five months later, on December 15, 2023, the complainant and witness recanted their statements before the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. As per a written statement to judicial magistrate Priyanka Solanki, dated 28 October 2023, Lot agreed that he went to Ujjain with his friends, and said that around 7 pm, a ruckus broke out near the Tanki Square area of Ujjain. The police had then detained about 40-50 devotees at the Kharakua police station, including Lot.
His testimony indicated that he had learned about the ‘spatting’ only after he reached the police station. “I have not seen anyone doing it. But when police personnel asked to sign some papers, I did without asking the reason,” he said, adding “I don’t know who, when and what was written in the FIR.”
Lot also claimed that he was misquoted in a lot of places in the FIR. “Police never actually took my statement,” he alleged.
About two weeks later, on 11 November 2023, Ajay Khatri gave his statement before the same first-class judicial magistrate.
Alleging that the police had misquoted him too, he said that he was not present there when it happened, let alone witness the alleged incident. “After almost an hour, police personnel called me on the first floor, asked my name and address before taking my signature on some papers,” his testimony said, adding “I don’t know what the police wrote on those.”
“Considering all the facts and circumstances of the case, arguments advanced by counsel for the parties, nature and gravity of allegation as also taking note of the fact that complainant Sawan has been examined before the trial Court but he has turned hostile and did not support the case of prosecution and even he has also denied his relevant portion of his FIR (Ex. P-1), eye- witness Ajay Khatri also turned hostile and not supported the case of the prosecution,” observed Justice Anil Varma.
The accused granted bail
In response to the bail application filed under section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, a single judge bench concluded, “No test identification parade has been conducted by the investigating officer, investigation is over and charge sheet has been filed, applicant is not having any criminal background, in view of the above, I deem it proper to release the applicant on bail.”
Two other minors had gotten bail two months before, on 19 September 2023, after the juvenile court rejected their bail petitions on two occasions initially. Later, Justice Varma, said that the juvenile justice board “committed jurisdictional error and illegality” in passing the orders and directed the minors to be released on bail on a personal bond of Rs 25,000 each.
The Bulldozer – a tool for “punishment”
Speaking to Article 14, a former high court justice, two former director generals of police and a Supreme Court lawyer said that the arrests of the teens, the drums and the demolition of the Mansooris’ homes did not follow due process and were illegal and violative of the Constitution in July 2023.
Just hours after the demolition, Ashish Agarwal, a BJP spokesperson of Madhya Pradesh, in a statement said, “This is Shivraj Chouhan’s government where there is not only action taken against the accused but the action is so strict that it breaks their willpower. The conspiracy to spread destruction in the society, and make brothers fight, will not be let go, but will be destroyed with shrills of music.” (ve chhode nahi jaayenge, balki gaaje baaje ke saat thode jaayenge)
The demolition of Mansooris’ building was just another of such cases wherein the properties occupied by or belonging to alleged criminals were razed by the administration, giving various reasons. It was only recently when the houses of three persons, who allegedly attacked a Bhopal-based BJP worker, were demolished to rubbles on the very first day of BJP leader Mohan Yadav as MP’s Chief Minister.
Despite the Supreme Court’s orders that no property may be demolished on the grounds of being an unauthorised construction without giving the owner an opportunity for a hearing, Bulldozers do not seem to stop making it to the headlines.
Over the years, many cases of similar razing of property of alleged wrong-doers have been undertaken across India, giving birth to terms like “Bulldozer Mama”, “Bulldozer Baba”, “Bulldozer Justice”, and perhaps more to come owing to the unending demolition cases.